When I was a sophomore in college, I volunteered my time as a Household Coordinator (For those of you who are unfamiliar with traditions at Franciscan University, we had “households” instead of sororities/fraternities; we were faith based, and each household had a different charism and focus). It was a tough job, let me tell you!
Prior to beginning the semester, we had to attend a retreat with all the other coordinators, followed by leading new students in their orientation small groups. It was an incredibly busy week with practically no sleep, but it was an incredibly rewarding time as well.
One of the activities on this retreat was a series of games which we performed as teams. The first time, we were not to speak to one another as we made our way through the activities. Next, we went through the same games again, this time encouraging one another and helping each other through. During our reflection at the end of the day, we all agreed that the games in which we assisted and encouraged one another were both more enjoyable and more successful. Speed games were done faster, follow the leader games were smoother, and puzzles were less frustrating and solved more quickly.
I’m sure you can easily see the point these activities were trying to make: life is not meant to be lived alone. We are social creatures, and going through our days without others to encourage or assist us makes even the simplest task more difficult, more mundane, and less appealing. Simply going through life side-by-side is not enough. We need interaction and support from those around us. This support can be as little as a smile, a kind word, or a hug. But all of these have one thing in common: They all reach down into that place deep within all of us that constantly begs “Am I worth it?” “Does anyone love me?” “Does anyone care?”
Solitude is in itself not a bad thing, and in small doses it’s healthy and necessary for everyone. However, the soul left alone too long often becomes withered and thirsty, yearning for companionship. How many of us can remember, at least once, sitting alone and wishing we had company? The feelings of isolation set in, and begin to fester and grow like an untreated wound. If untreated, the effects can be catastrophic. Eventually those inner questions begin to sound more like statements – “You’re not worth it.” “Nobody loves you.” “Nobody really cares about you.”
Mother Teresa (one of my very favorite women in the whole world) put it beautifully:
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
As humans, we are called to love one another, and to be the hands and feet of Christ. What are we doing to fulfill this beautiful mission? What are we doing to encourage holiness and happiness in others? How are we working to lead those around us to Christ? And how are we lifting up and encouraging the hearts and souls of others?
I know for my part I’m not doing nearly enough.
Guess I’d better work on that….